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Bola Owoade

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Book Review – Informal Learning at Work By Paul Matthews


First of all I would like to say a big thank to Paul Matthews who gave me a free copy of the book to review after reading the review I wrote on Innovative Performance Support. I also appreciate the time he took to pen me a little note and sign the book. Paul I won't forget the challenge you issued to me. That I should keep learning, it's fun!

So about the book. Informal Learning at Work with the subtitle, How To Boost Performance in Tough Times is one of those publications that aims to open our eyes to the virtues and importance of informal learning and in my estimation does it pretty well. The book's topic does sound almost academic, as in something that might have been written by a university lecturer in the Human Resource Development department, and I was getting ready to read through a lot of theories and models, but I was proven wrong.

What first caught my attention were the number of people that commented about the book, 10 in all. And I did read all their comments. But that might seem like hype after all a lot of books do have comments and still under-deliver but for me this is not one of those books. After reading just part of chapter one, I liked the fact that the style of language is easy to read and understand without any unnecessary jargon. I was also impressed by the illustrations and research information although in some cases I did feel that the research information was excessive and not necessary but it did help to drive the point home

The book is not particularly large and is structured as follows:

  • Has a table of contents
  • Foreword written by Donald H Taylor and David Apparicio
  • Has 11 chapters
  • A conclusion
  • Includes some information about the author
  • References
  • An index

Below I will give a short review of each chapter and also a list of ten personal learning points for me. But if you asked me right now - Is it a book to read? My answer would be yes (and not because it's a free book for me)

  • Chapter One - Survive and Thrive With Informal Learning: Focuses on the argument for informal learning and why it is important and necessary. Also discusses the challenges that L&D currently face and also the opportunities that exist for L&D.
  • Chapter Two - The Agile Learning Organization: This describes what an agile organization is and why informal learning is probably the most effective learning delivery mode for becoming agile. This also presents a very important argument as to why L&D needs to fully embrace, support and promote informal learning.
  • Chapter Three - What is Informal Learning?: The title of this chapter says it all, it deals with what informal learning is. But it does not stop there, the chapter also focuses on topics such as push versus pull learning and how informal learning happens in the workplace.
  • Chapter Four - This is a very practical chapter: It deals with examples of how to implement informal learning in the workplace and it also uses some case studies to illustrate. The chapter describes a good list of informal learning methods.
  • Chapter Five - The New L&D Role: What should L&D be to the organisation? What do executives want? How can L&D contribute to meeting the challenges of business? What core competencies should L&D have? These are questions that this chapter seeks to answer.
  • Chapter Six - Practical Things For You To Do: Another chapter giving tips about how to enhance informal learning, it looks at topics such as understanding the current state of informal learning in your organisation and looking at how people collaborate. And the chapter also issues, sort of a warning - don't discard formal learning. Other key topics covered are the importance of marketing what you are doing and employee engagement.
  • Chapter Seven - More Tools and Ideas You Can Use: This is a short but interesting chapter as it covers actual tools that can help enhance informal learning. Some of the tools covered are wikis, blogs, rss feeds, forums and message boards. It also looks at information sharing and social learning.
  • Chapter Eight - Managing Your Learnscape: The learnscape is described as the environment in an organization within which people learn. This short chapter gives ideas on how to manage that environment. Some of the ideas discussed are learning about learning, information gathering, establishing subject matter experts, cross teams and informal learning during training.
  • Chapter Nine - Obstacles You May face: When you decide to do things differently you will no doubt face barriers. This chapter explores barriers to informal learning. It has sections on what the blocks and barriers are, and ways to remove them. It also has some tips on taking action instead of just talking about informal learning.
  • Chapter Ten - Getting Managers More Involved: This chapters answers two key questions, why do few managers take learning and development seriously, and how do you involve line managers?
  • Chapter Eleven - Evaluating Informal Learning: This is the last chapter and also the shortest. It deals with the all too familiar topic of evaluation, in this case how to measure the impact of informal learning. Four topics are covered in this chapter - what to measure, when to measure, how to measure and measuring capability.

So having briefly reviewed all the chapters, here are ten key learning points from my perspective.

  1. Defining informal learning
  2. Understanding the reasons why learning and development practitioners must embrace informal learning
  3. The fact that informal learning will not replace formal learning but rather complement it, although there needs to be less emphasis on formal learning
  4. What the term "agile learning organisation" means
  5. Some examples of informal learning in practice
  6. Development areas for L&D practitioners in the current world of work
  7. Some practical tips for implementing informal learning
  8. Tools and ideas for informal learning.
  9. Barriers to implementing informal learning
  10. How to get managers involved in learning and development

This is not a book i to just read through and drop, rather it's one to consult from time to time. I aim to extract a couple of tools from the book that I can use practically and i'm sure my learning points will eventually exceed ten as I do that.

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Bola Owoade

Senior Learning and Development Advisor

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